Friday 26 May 2017

Jazzing up the JaG

JAGUAR
XF
RATING 82/100
JAGUAR XF RATING 82/100

Sometimes I'm almost afraid to look back; time goes so quickly. It seems like only a few months ago that Jaguar boldly went where few had gone before and introduced a radical mid-size saloon, the XF.



In reality it was 2008 and Jaguar desperately needed the oxygen of a successful new motor.

They got it.

Now here we are, the mere tick of an indicator later, with a revised version and a hugely important change of engine.

Mercy.

Normally, mid-life tweaks of a car fall into two categories:

1. Major -- where the carmaker effectively admits the first attempt was a bit of a disaster -- and it gives it the equivalent of a whole new wardrobe.

2. Minor, where it applies the equivalent of a darker eyeliner, a subtle buffing here and there, to moderately accentuate something that was fairly decently made up in the first place.

The irony with the XF, however, is that the relatively minor changes have wrought major visual improvements.

Its front in particular -- narrower headlights, a more pronounced grille -- underlines quite a difference.

It was fitting then, I suppose, that Jaguar should use the occasion to pop a new 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel under the bonnet.

The difference this makes is three-fold:

•It saves you money on road tax over the older, larger engine.

•Because VRT is lower, the price comes down to around €45,000.

•With an eight-speed automatic gearbox (use the paddles on the steering wheel for gear change, they're great fun) it has plenty of power and versatility.

That is absolutely essential in a market where you compete against the cream of the Germans: Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-series.

The level of engineering in diesels these days is, simply put, admirable. I love the power and grunt of a good diesel but far more important in a car like this -- and for this market -- is its smoothness and pick-up-ability. It may have lacked a bit of response coming out of a few sharp corners with me but it quickly got its shoulder to the wheel and we were off again.

This 2.2-litre is worth attention -- it is also in the Range Rover Evoque. I think it will appeal to a whole new audience.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox -- yes, eight gears -- was quite something. I never noticed a gear shift 'shunt' over the entire course of the drive when I left it in automatic mode. But when I used the steering wheel paddles, I fairly rang the changes -- and enjoyed that aspect of the drive a lot. Now I think of it, that is what leaves you to look back on a drive and realise it is this sort of 'engagement' which makes all the difference .

I'll admit elements of this brought out the teenager in me. I ran up and down through the ratios with something approaching abandon. That, of course, did not help my fuel consumption. Jaguar claims you can get 5.4-litres per 100km (aided and abetted by its stop-start system).

Even so it falls into a higher emissions category than the A6 or 5-series -- €302 as opposed to €156. Every cent counts these days, though I have to say such thoughts were far from my mind as I drove it.

Passengers, and particularly those sitting in front, loved it. Rear seat passengers were not quite as well looked after for space and room generally as they would be in the rivals I've mentioned. There is, however, a really roomy boot.

Why wouldn't I enjoy the drive?

The chassis was supple and sporty but mixed smooth and controlled handling. And it just went 'swish' during my motorway driving. The only noticeable intrusions were from sections of road where you get those scars of divots and ripples. Funny how time changes your views and expectations.

I really like the way Jaguar has worked the main dials and visuals and all that. But I felt the model could have done with greater projection -- the speed segments and figures are, relatively speaking, quite small and overall let the look down a bit. Isn't it mad how you notice such matters more than three years on?

One nice touch is the simple, little clock. In its way it served as something of a reminder of how quickly time flits by and how, by the day, our demands widen and our expectations expand.

There are a few things I would improve on this revised and revamped XF.

But thanks to this latest facelift and a stirring new power plant, I do believe it will stand the test of time right up to its next incarnation.

That is about as good as it gets with cars these days. Automakers, like Father Time, never stand still. They can't afford to.

ecunningham@independent.ie



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